Shalee Cunningham

Photo by Brian Ray

Shalee Cunningham

Cunningham looking for clarity

New superintendent hopes to streamline school policies

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— After beginning work nearly a month ago, Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Shalee Cunningham has had her hands full with new buildings, a new principal, new faces and new all-day kindergarten classes.

And the school year hasn't even started yet.

Cunningham has hired Kevin Taulman as interim principal of Steamboat Springs High School. She is holding interviews for assistant principal today, likely also an interim position.

Although there were only two applicants for the assistant principal position, which was advertised in-district only, Cunningham said she was pleased.

"It's a small district. It's not out of the ordinary," she said. "I really want to start grooming people who are interested in leadership positions, so maybe in the future we will have more (applicants for similar positions)."

Both applicants are from the high school, she said.

The first Steamboat Springs School Board meeting with Cunningham at the helm was held Monday night.

Cunningham said she does not have any sweeping plans she wants to implement in her new role, but hopes she can make the School Board operate more smoothly and consistently.

"The last thing I want to do is add more policies. I do want to clarify and streamline some of the existing policies though," she said.

School Board member Laura Anderson said she agreed that Cunningham could help make district policy more usable.

"Her role, I'm hoping, is to guide us through those spots that we might need to clean up our policy," she said. "She will come to us with places she's noticed we need more consistency and suggest the policies we need to address. Right now we're struggling to find them on our own."

While the board hopes the policies will guide both the board and Cunningham, the decisions about how best to implement the policies will be left to the superintendent, board members said.

"She will make the decisions based on her wealth of experience, and whether she needs to be hands-on or whether she hands things off with direction or just saying 'go for it,' that's up to her," said School Board President Robin Crossan.

School Board member Lisa Brown said she hopes the superintendent will use her judgment on how to follow through on directives from the board.

"My expectation of the superintendent is they use their skills and resources and capacity to achieve the results for the school district that the School Board has indicated they want to see," she said.

Cunningham also serves as a bridge between the board and the schools, Anderson said.

"She's the School Board's link to the day-to-day operations of the district, and we've charged her to make sure the students are getting the best education possible."

Community issues

Cunningham said she is also learning more about community issues such as the social host ordinance, a policy intended to curb underage drinking in residences. The Steamboat Springs City Council will conduct an initial review of the policy's latest version tonight.

"If the drinking age in Colorado is 21, we owe it to our teens to be consistent. That means if they're on a boat, or skiing on a mountain or at home with their parents, it doesn't change," she said.

Allowing minors to drink, even if their own parents provide the alcohol, is "bad role modeling," she said.

"These kids need boundaries, structure and a consistent message," Cunningham said. "They rely on it, and it's the least we can do."

- To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208 or e-mail zfridell@steamboatpilot.com

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